Northern Ireland’s disused railway network is a forgotten piece of industrial and rural heritage being lost to time. Over 600 miles of track bed lies dormant, winding through spectacular countryside, linking villages, towns and cities, major attractions and workplaces. It represents a major potential tourist draw begging to be developed. While our population faces a growing obesity problem, a major plank in the fight for healthier lifestyles sits quietly waiting for its moment to shine.

What is the vision?

There is an opportunity to uncover our hidden past, build for a healthier future, and provide a world-class walking and cycling infrastructure to sell to the world. We can build a network of traffic-free pathways on the footprint of our abandoned railway network and former canals, and work to link them beyond. The full extent of this potential network is staggering:


What are the benefits?

600 miles of traffic-free paths, trailing to every corner of Northern Ireland – what a spectacular selling point to promote tourism in Northern Ireland. Imagine the jobs we could support in the outdoor activity and hospitality sectors alone. Almost every major local tourist attraction would linked by this network. Old connections would be renewed between villages, towns and cities, with an alternative to private car travel. Safe space for individuals and families to walk or cycle, jog or walk the dog, opening access to our countryside.

There are millions of people across Europe and beyond who would consider basing a holiday to Ireland around long distance cycling trips. Our on-road National Cycle Network won’t tap into this market while inexperienced users or families are expected to spend most of their time sharing space with vehicles. Even on a small scale, the 42km Great Western Greenway in County Mayo points to the potential – delivering tens of thousands of additional tourist trips into the area, along with an estimated €7 million boost to the economy, each year. Scale that up across the whole of Northern Ireland, with a vast array of journey options, could be amazing.

Great Western Greenway in Mayo brings €7M into the local economy each year

Investing in greenways is shown to boost local economies, encourage regeneration schemes, create opportunities for entrepreneurs in rural settings, support employment options and improve public health.

What are the challenges?

Northern Ireland’s abandoned railway network is no longer fully intact. With the mostly rural setting, some sections have been lost to agricultural lands, building development, industrial estates, and former railway buildings being renovated into domestic dwellings. These issues will need to be tackled if a continuous network is to be realised. Discussions between landowners, local communities and political stakeholders are vital to find solutions, whether by route diversions or access agreements. Linking traffic-free paths across developed towns and cities is a challenge, but should be pursued with vigour to add safety and the potential for town renewal and redevelopment.

Along with developed land, many heritage features along abandoned railway lines are now dumping grounds

When the railway network was mostly built in the 19th century. Today many of our abandoned routes cross the border. To build a world-class network of greenways requires an all-island strategy which can unlock EU funding.

What can you do?

Each individual greenway needs a strong local voice to raise awareness, secure political and community buy-in and drive towards delivery:

  • contact your local councillors and MLAs
  • talk to Sustrans and your local council
  • contact community groups, churches and business organisations
  • set up a Facebook page and build awareness
  • contact landowners on the route to gain access and photograph features
  • get involved in local history groups and learn about your lost railways

You can also search this blog for a detailed look at some of the potential routes in Northern Ireland, such as Ballymoney to Ballycastle – The Greenway of Thrones..


50 thoughts on “About

    1. There is loads of maps on the precise location of these lines, but they are the historical maps. I had actually looked and proposed this idea for the portadown to Derry line through dungannon and omagh, an 85 mile walk/cycle way with hostels and activities along it, for my architecture masters thesis and discussed it in my dissertation. People thought I was mad saying who in their right minds would walk 85miles.

      1. I would walk 85+ miles if the opportunity was there, if not for leisure then as a fundraiser! It’s a great idea. You only have to look at the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) in the US to know that people WANT to walk!

      1. Would be great to see it up and available again but how much is still useable and how much has been lost totally.

    2. There is the old narrow gauge railway line that’s ran from Ballymena to Waterfoot driving between Cargan to the Glenariff forest you can see the remains of the old railway line and some of the old station buildings at Parkmore station is still standing i always imagine what it was like back in those days I’m sure it was beautiful

    3. Peaceful car free paths? Not quite. There’s been roads and houses built all over the top of the old lines.

  1. There’s a ~12 mile car-free cycle path that runs along an disused railway between Bristol and Bath, and it is heavily used by families, enthusiasts and commuters all year round. It would be great to fulfil the potential of these types of routes in NI.

  2. I meant the old railway lines in N.Ireland. We are well behind other parts of the UK – I wonder if that’s because the laws on rights-of-way are different here?

    1. We are well behind other parts of the UK (on this and just about everything else) because we have dickhead politicians arguing about flags and cakes instead of taking steps to make this country a better place to live for its population.
      Probably very little to do with right-of-way laws.

  3. We are well behind other parts of the UK (on this and just about everything else) because we have dickhead politicians arguing about flags and cakes instead of taking steps to make this country a better place to live for its population.
    Probably very little to do with right-of-way laws.

    1. Too right Jonathon, there’s a disused track here in Provence where I currently live the velo route de Calavon along the old rail limk between Avignon and Apt. Iirs so popular absolutely fabulous could so easily bed one in NI.
      I left NI because of the medieval politics but I love the province great place for sports and lovely warm people it gauls me to see the lost potential.

  4. I’ve done quite a bit of fieldwork around rural parts of ulster and noticed that there are a few disused railway tracks marked on Ordnance Survey mapping in the areas I was surveying. Could be a place to start?

  5. why not jus use it as a rail network instead? Our public transport is rubbish. And extend it into the Republic of Ireland while your at it

    1. Thanks – most of the lines were closed due to falling passenger numbers, although some may have been shut prematurely. There’s a few which could be more economically viable today eg. Armagh-Portadown, Portadown-Dungannon-Omagh, Belfast-Newcastle but we’re unlikely to see them within 20-30 years, whereas a greenway network (protecting the routes for future rail use) could be developed cheaply, quickly and with great economic payback.

      All the cross-border routes are on the map, and only an all-island greenway strategy will be able to draw down significant EU funding to deliver most of this, so with you there..

      1. Hear hear on the route you mentioned as being viable! I think it would be an economically sound proposal as well as fantastic for commuters and travellers alike but as Jonathan Ashby says we are well behind for obvious reasons. Its so frustrating knowing that NI could be 100 times better but the fat cats seem to live in a different time zone and perhaps dimension.

    2. Agree. I’m anxious to come to NI and railways are THE way to travel. It’s so much easier to get around the country. Don’t understand why they stopped using them.

  6. The mayo Mulranny Greenway is on an old railway line and is full of tourists. This is a wonderful vision for N. Ireland.

  7. Have been on the Mayo Greenway and it is just fabulous – has totally regenerated Newport and Mulranney. I kept thinking while our family was enjoying every minute of its beauty how brilliant if this could be extended out across Ireland. The whole area is buzzing with bikes, walkers, families. Would love to see something similar in NI.

  8. Hi,

    I’ve recently graduated with a BA Hons Degree in Architecture and I’m from the Omagh area. It would be brilliant to turn this vision into reality. Currently Omagh has a massive Cycling & Running Community which would be one big sub category of the community who would make great use out of this.

    I think this is something which would get massive public support from Omagh people and I’m sure lots of these other towns aswell.

    Whoever is in charge of this vision, or has started the ball rolling, I am putting my name forward to help you out as I would love to see this go ahead.

    My email is darrynbradley@outlook.com


  9. I just found this site from a post on Facebook. I believe the legislation to protectrailway lines is still current. This means that planning approval to use old railway lines for farmers and Home owners is granted under the explicit knowledge that it can be used bit not owned or sold, and the government retains the right to change usage whenever it so desires. Can anyone confirm this (or refute it). Personally I’d like to see as many of them reopened as train/tram/dedicated bus ways as possible and the rest used for leisure purposes. Having moved a goodly proportion of the populations out of belfast and other large towns without moving jobs just created the congested roads and rush hour bottlenecks we have comecome to hate but tolerate. i suspect the vast majority of old trackway would not be beneficial to redevelop for transport and there would be benefit In dual approach . Great site BTW. I can see a Lot of Time ans effort heh as gone into the research and thinking.

  10. there is fabulous potential here to open up the countryside in NI and to promote tourism and outdoor activities, many of which are largely free or low cost to users, with associated health benefits. After growing up in NI, I’ve lived in Scotland, England and Wales for 17 years where access to the countryside is wonderful with excellent rights of way and is the bit that I enjoy most of living in GB. NI is decades behind the rest of the UK in this respect and I wish that politicians would work together to improve the quality of life for everyone. I will watch developments
    with interest.

  11. The abandoned railways are nice as they are, in some respects. They give you an insight into the past and provoke imagination. There are enough miles of tarmac already.

    1. Agree, horse riders should be included in this vision, we are vulnerable road users as well and the are currently no designated bridleways in Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK.

      1. The only problem with horses is that i have never once seen any of their owners cleaning up after them. They just ride on leaving the mess behind

  12. Hi the railway line from Derry to Coleraine has a number of stations closed along this route – these should be reopened eg at Eglinton, Ballykelly, Limavady to reduce car transport use as there are high numbers of people travelling in both directions for work. This would also link in well for tourism and encourage people to fly into City of Derry Airport to explore the North West and Causeway Coast. Alongside this there is also the potential to develop walking & cycle paths along this route away from main roads making it safer for cyclists and pedestrians and encouraging our population towards a more healthy and active lifestyle. However development of the rail network system needs to be economical in order to attract people to this form of transport. Currently it is cheaper to travel by car to Coleraine to work than it is to use the rail or bus system here, therefore there is a need to look at costs to make this form of transport more attractive to the general public and tourists.

  13. I would rather see the rail service restored.
    It’s ridiculous how far behind N.Ireland is than the rest of the world. Every other city improves their infrastructure while we turn them into graveyards/monuments all in the name of tourism. This kills any dream for a nationwide rail service.

  14. There is a new Greenway opened between
    Omeath and Carlingford on what was previously the Old Newry to Greenore Railway. Hopefully it will in time continue onto Newry !!

  15. It may be worthwhile to consider whether need to involve the health and safety police, and more importantly politicians otherwise it may never get done. (take a look at Bangor seafront as a perfect example…first of all they took away the seaside from a seaside town…30 years after they realised this was a bad idea….and still not a sod dug in the re-development of the seafront…then we have the £14million being spent on new footpaths…only down a matter of weeks and already stained with beer, pizza, kebab sauce and vomit!..who agreed to pay this money to put down light coloured paving stones outside pubs and kebab shops? oh yes, the politicians) There is no need for millions of pounds to be spent with nice clean tarmac…take a look at France, they have thousands of miles of disused railways now used as cycle tracks (I cycled about 60 miles of them last spring) and they are simply gravel paths that is all that we need. 23mm racing bikes wont be able to use them, but no-one should be racing anyway. The vast majority of users will be families and they dont use racing bikes. the road bike racers can use the road. (BTW I’m one of them). There needs to be a balance between not getting this done at all because of the cost of clinical tarmac paths and getting it done with gravel. Just Sayin !

  16. Are there any books tracing the history of each disused line and which lines one can still walk or cycle along? I would be very interested in walking along some of them during my holidays in Ulster. RSVP

  17. There is a tunnel outside newry which i have walked along a few times. It is near enough a mile long and is the longest railway tunnel in ireland. It would be nice to see this stretch turned into a gravel path for walking and cycling

  18. We are going nowhere with the shot gun approach. Need to identify a particular route/prospect and develop a business case that shows the benefits. There are comparators already mentioned such a something and Mayo. Once there’s a business case an approach on a prof of concept basis to some funders can be made. At that point political backing will become available but not on a wish list. I’ll write a business case but the pilot site needs selected and the project needs some strategic direction

  19. I have just seen the plans submitted for the Newry to Omeath Greenway and am fairly disappointed with what is proposed. A new 2m wide bridge is bad enough but extensive sections of the route are only 1.5m in width bound on both sides by a fence. A family couldn’t even walk side by side in that space. The preferred minimum width for this type of route is 3.0m but designers should look to provide what will make the route attractive and enjoyable to use. The Lagan towpath I’m sure meets the minimum standards but isn’t wide enough. Newry canal towpath is wider and is a far superior route. DRD had no comment to make on the plans which makes me wonder were Cycling Unit even consulted on them. Very disappointing.

    1. Some sections of the Lagan Towpath are not 3 metres, Edenderry and Red Bridge being 2 locations, also very poor facilities eg no toilets at the Lisburn end.
      Hopefully the Lagan River Trust can extend a path from Lisburn to Moira.

  20. Like others I believe, if these lines are preserved, restore them and quickly before we drown in pure gridlock on roads. There are too many road deaths. If these lines were used as Greenways for most of the week they would have the occasional cyclist and dog walker. We cannot afford the luxury. Trains now…..

  21. South Armagh left out again?? There’s a lovely rail line from Dundalk to Castleblayney for instance. We need this to be a cross border project.

    1. Hi Conan – it’s close but no cigar. The good folk of Monaghan and Louth will be quick to point out that line doesn’t actually go into Armagh. It’s actually *very* close, just 50m away at one point. Still, having seen a little of this old line, it looks stunning and would be a decent candidate for border region EU funding. There’s probably a good idea in attempting to link a future greenway into Crossmaglen (just over 2 miles away) probably going by Lough Ross. Any and all suggestions and local campaigning/awareness raising would be very welcome 🙂

  22. Work on a Dublin to Galway Greenway is scheduled to start this year, much of it to run along canal towpaths. Hopefully the recent general election won’t scupper this. Is there scope in NI for a similar canal route or does one exist already? I ask ‘ cos I’m planning a holiday in NI this Summer, for the first time ever, and I love the canal walks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s